I’ve known for a long time that if you’re buying equipment in the UK, that is for your sole use and needed due to a disability, you don’t have to pay VAT. Some suppliers of deafness-related equipment have a simple declaration readily available so VAT is deducted before you pay anything. (eg Connevans’ VAT information, Action On Hearing Loss shop information.)
I’ve just learned* there’s a similar set-up if you’re buying equipment overseas. Usually there’s duty to pay either via the carrier, or at customs if you’re bringing something in yourself. Someone in our email group has just passed on the news that you can make a similar declaration and won’t have to pay duty.
To qualify for exemption, HMRC states equipment must be “specially designed to give educational, employment or social help to people with physical or mental disabilities” (see HMRC ref below.) Their reply to my equiry states, “unfortunately, the VAT relief only covers equipment that is designed solely for the use by disabled people” which excludes most if not all electronic stethoscopes, “and also is to be used for your own private and domestic use – so this wouldn’t cover equipment that you use for work.” Which definitely excludes all stethoscopes as well as much other equipment. If in doubt about a specific situation, I suggest checking with HMRC.
I’m not entirely sure of the process yet and the supplier or carrier might organise it for you. But if not, there’s more information on the HMRC website. There are processes to follow if equipment is being sent by post or by freight. If by post, ask the sender to write clearly on the package and its accompanying Customs declaration: “GOODS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE: RELIEF CLAIMED.”
Normally, you should claim relief at the time of import. If you fail to do this, HMRC might accept a belated claim (see section 3.8) and repay the appropriate charges. They say “subject to certain conditions”
If you’re bringing in goods “in your accompanied baggage for your own personal use, you must declare them … at the Customs Red Channel or Red Point when you arrive. You do not need a NIRU certificate, but [they] may ask you to fill in a declaration.”
I think we probably use the same declaration to receive equipment by freight or post.
I’ll update this if I have more details.
*Many thanks to one of our email group members who told us about duty relief. I find the group invaluable for sharing experience and information and supporting each other. For more information about the group, read here.